Ulster interest alive and well as Fulham Irish aim to stun former champions Corofin in London
AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Fulham Irish (London) v Corofin (Galway) (tomorrow, 1pm, Ruislip)
IT has only been a fortnight since the final at the Athletic Grounds but, whether it’s the fall of snow or the start of the Christmas chaos, for some reason the Ulster Club Championship already seems like a distant memory.
Slaughtneil headed back to north Derry with the Seamus McFerran Cup safely ensconced at the front of the bus, their attention immediately shifting towards Nemo Rangers next February and another tilt at securing the Holy Grail.
But that wasn’t the end of the Ulster story for 2017.
Over in London, a group of ex-pats have been diligently training away since the end of October in anticipation of their shot at the big time.
Tomorrow it finally arrives when Fulham Irish welcome Galway giants Corofin to McGovern Park in Ruislip, a place alongside Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland semi-final the prize for the winner.
Managed by Down’s two-time All-Ireland winner Gregory McCartan, and with an attack spearheaded by Owen Mulligan – who helped Tyrone lift Sam three times during the Noughties – there has been plenty of interest in the Fulham Irish story from this part of the world.
Yet ‘Mugsy’ was one of 12 sons of Ulster who lined out in the London Championship final win over Tir Chonaill Gaels – fittingly decided by a late, late free from the former Red Hand star.
Goalkeeper Jonathan Tavey hails from Inniskeen, then there’s teak tough corner-backs Roger Morgan (Kilcoo) and Connor Murphy (Saval) while Maguiresbridge full-back Conor Hyde minds the house.
The wing-back roles are occupied by Aidan Savage (Randalstown) and John Gilfedder (Burren), captain and former Tyrone player Mickey Murphy (Galbally) provides the drive at midfield, while Mulligan (Cooktown), Marty Hughes (Killeeshil) and Saval brothers Liam and Rowan Turley have been among the starting forwards.
In the London final on October 22, Bellaghy’s Shea Quinn came on to replace wing-forward Liam Staunton in the second half, and could get the nod again tomorrow as Staunton struggles to shake off the knee injury sustained that day.
Former Down midfielder Anton McArdle, from Burren, could also be handed a starting berth.
All miles away from the place they call home, this journey has galvanised the group. Nobody expects them to come close to causing an upset against the 2015 All-Ireland champions tomorrow, and that suits Fulham Irish down to the ground.
Aidan Savage is the only man in the starting 15 to have been down this road before, the Tir na nOg man a survivor from the club’s last county title just six years ago.
Stalwart Savage, who was an Antrim minor in 2000 before his travels eventually saw him settle in London for work, played in the 2011 defeat to St Brigid’s of Roscommon.
However, at the end of last year, he was ready to hang up the boots.
But this is where the stardust of men like McCartan and Mulligan really comes into play. When they came on board, Savage knew he would regret turning down the opportunity to be involved with such legends of the game.
When word spread that ‘Mugsy’ might be on his way in the early part of the year, Savage admits having some of the familiar preconceptions about the Cookstown man, but has been pleasantly surprised by the level of professional Mulligan has brought to the club.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says the IT consultant.
“Everybody thinks he’s this crazy guy and all that stuff but he’s actually really quiet. He goes to every single training session. Here he is at 36, with his three All-Ireland medals, everybody knows him, but he’s as dedicated a man as there is.
“He rallies everybody, and it’s really humbling to see how he approaches the game. You know, sometimes you get lads who come and maybe they’ve played two National League games for their county back home and think ‘I’m too good for this London nonsense’.
“Mugsy has been the total opposite. He has come over, big star, and given full commitment. He has really raised the bar. We’ve always had good players here but when you have Greg McCartan there and Mugsy, it’s an opportunity a lot of Gaelic players don’t get.
“Like, I remember watching Greg in the 1994 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork. I was 12 and I was there with my dad. Him and that Down team were some of my heroes when I was playing underage, they were the ones you wanted to emulate.
“So I consider myself really lucky to be able to work with these guys like that.”
Against St Brigid’s six years ago, Fulham Irish fell victim to the experience and gamesmanship of their vaunted opponents.
Star forward Lorcan Mulvey reacted to his marker early on, was sent off, Brigid’s scored a goal and that was all she wrote. Gone inside 12 minutes.
And Savage knows they can’t afford to make the same mistakes tomorrow if they are to have any chance of beating the bookies’ odds of 1/20.
“We’ve learned from what happened that day,” says the 35-year-old.
“It’s a beautiful scenario where everybody expects you to win. If people pick up the paper and see you’ve lost by 10 points, they’ll not be surprised. But if we win, it would be absolutely unbelievable.
“We just want to give it all we have. You never know what can happen.”